To most people, racing is that boring sport that takes three hours to complete one race. It’s the sport that only gets aired on ESPN when 20 cars pile up and sheet metal goes flying everywhere. It’s the sport where a guy sponsored by Miller Light turns left 400 times.
And that scares people away from the sport. It seems like a money pit — and it is. It seems like it’s a death trap — and it sort of is. It seems extremely boring — and that is one thing racing is not. The fact of the matter is most Americans don’t know that one of the greatest sports ever is taking place pretty much right in their backyard.
That sport is autocross.
Autocross is dirt cheap, easy, safe racing. Getting involved is as easy as driving your car to an event, buying a pass and running laps. Then you pack it up, drive home and call it a day. All autocross is running time trials. The quickest time wins.
There’s no chance of crashing your car, ruining the body or getting hurt because the course is made up of cones in a parking lot. You can spin out, hit cones, miss corners and even go off course – things that would usually warrant costly repairs if done on an actual track. But at the end of the day in autocross, you’re still alive and so is your car.
The cost of one day of autocross is about $25 at the gates. Buying a track session at Kansas Speedway for one hour will cost hundreds of dollars more than that.
With autocross, all you need is your car and a helmet. You’re not going fast enough in autocross to risk rolling your car, unless you have a high center of gravity car like an SUV or a crossover, so you don’t need to buy all of the expensive safety gear like roll cages, bucket seats or helmets.
The best thing about autocross is the fact that it’s actually fun. There’s no grueling weight training, no ridiculous diets to shave off a couple of pounds, no boring after school practices. You just drive.
Autocross is so fun, that you can go from driving a boring everyday econobox to being former F1 star Nikki Lauda in a split second. Going through the corners at 40 to 50 mph, pushing the nose of the car into every miniscule corner to try and gain some momentum, apexing a long corner into the straight away into a hard braking left. It’s liberating. And all of this is done in a driving center or a open parking lot.
In my first meet, I didn’t finish one lap without destroying a plethora of orange training cones. I lost my way around the course, cut corners, even somehow spun out after hitting a slick patch on the course. At one point, half of my butt was on my center console because I was taking turns too fast for my car’s chair to keep me planted. My tires chirped and squealed the whole way around the sea of cones. I posted the second slowest time, just edging out a stanced Honda Civic that couldn’t turn, by barely a second.
And it was the most fun I have ever had. How often do teenagers get a chance to drive as stupid as they could possibly want and then some, without getting Officer Bob pulling you over for reckless driving? Every time I went back on the course I posted quicker and quicker lap times, and every single time it got more exhilarating.
Pushing your car to its limits once is heart-racing fun. Pushing it to its limits five times in one day is nearly heart attack inducing. Before I knew it, I was inside the top 10 out of 25 drivers in my class. To me, that was a lot more fun than running around a field for three hours.
Plus, it’s always competitive.
No matter what car you have, what modifications you have done, there is always somebody who has a car and the skills to give you a run for your money.
Autocross events are divided up into three major classes. Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive and all wheel drive. Within each class are groups or levels to make sure it will be competitive. Ranging from stock, modified and open, it makes sure that a 40 year old man who dropped a mortgage payment on his car won’t be going against your bone stock daily driver.
If you want to start racing, the Sport Car Club of America (SCCA) is a good place to start looking for races. Kansas City even has their own chapter inside the SCCA, where there are events happening just about every other week. To sign up for a race, go to their website www.kcrscca.org, find an event that works for you through their calendar, and then just follow the steps from there. Events should be pretty cheap as the summer rolls around, but you might need to sign up early before some events become sold out.
Learning the limits of your car first before you spin out and crap your pants like I did in my first run is a good idea. The Teen Street Survival School sponsored by Tire Rack is an excellent place to just that. It is an all day training session where they start you off in the classroom, talk about driving techniques, teach you all you could possibly want to know about recovering from spins and loss of control. Then they will get you out on an autocross like course where you can push your car as hard as you want and maybe even push it too hard without the fear of crashing or getting arrested by the police. You can sign up for the Teen Street Survival School through streetsurvival.org.
So, go out, get your car, grab some friends and sign up for the next race. It’s an experience that you won’t soon forget.